Not only can Aadhaar card users block their cards any time they wished, they can also block their personal biometric information if they wished and nobody will be able to unblock it, the Centre told the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.
The UIDAI, established by the UPA-2 in 2009, issues Aadhaar cards to the citizens, who want to use the government welfare schemes. Under the programme, every citizen is provided with a 12-digit unique identification number for which biometric information is collected.
Seeking a clarification on the matter that whether the Aadhaar card was necessary as a proof of identification for all government schemes, the Supreme Court asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, "Do you (Centre) make it a precedent for giving benefits of schemes? Do you say that a person will not be put to a disadvantageous position because of lack of Aadhaar?" The five-judge Constitution bench was headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu.
On 11 August, a three-judge bench had referred a batch of petitions that challenged the Aadhaar cards scheme to a larger bench for an authoritative view on the question as to whether the UIDAI scheme would go against the fundamental right to privacy. They had also restricted the use of Aadhaar card to Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) and LPG schemes.
Now, clarifying the matter, Rohatgi said, "The answer to the question (whether Aadhaar would be voluntary) is: Yes. If the court wants, the affidavit of the highest functionary will be available by 10:30 am tomorrow." He also reiterated time and again during the two-hour-long hearing that nobody would be deprived of any benefits for either want of Aadhaar or for not using it.
He added, "Using the card is voluntary and not only this, a card holder can block it too. If a person wants to block the information about him contained in the biometric database, he can do it voluntarily and nobody will be able to unblock it. Such information will be locked till he wants,” reported The Indian Express.
However, Rohatgi added that even though the Centre was ready to give the undertaking, a bill was pending in the Parliament since 2013, which intended to make Aadhaar mandatory for implementation of all welfare schemes, according to a report in The Times of India. "If Parliament passes the bill and makes Aadhaar mandatory, then the government should not be accused of giving a wrong undertaking," Rohatgi said.
Vehemently opposed to the scheme, petitioners' counsel Shyan Divan added that the scheme had "no statutory backing" and that the application form for Aadhaar card doesn't say anywhere that it would involve parting with biometric data, including an iris scan.
"How is the government implementing it when the card contains vital biometric data that is crucial to a person's privacy? The government under the Constitution must be taking steps to protect the citizen's privacy rather than attempting to play with it. No country with a Constitution like ours would permit this brazen violation of citizen's fundamental rights. No court like ours would give the government a free run to violate privacy of citizens," Divan said.
The bench, also comprising Justices MY Eqbal, C Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, will continue hearing the matter on Thursday, as the advancing of arguments on pleas of the Centre, RBI, SEBI, IRDA, TRAI, the Pension Fund Regulatory Authority and states like Gujarat and Jharkhand for modification of the 11 August order have still remained inconclusive.
(With inputs from agencies)